Got this email out of the blue today:
My name's Kevin ****. Five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, you wrote me an email that outlined, in great detail, the path I would have to take in order to become an advertising creative. A few weeks ago, in a bit of post-graduation housecleaning, I stumbled upon a printout of this note. Having not seen this for several years, I was surprised by the specificity to which I had inadvertently followed your advice - I attended a university with an actual Advertising curriculum (Penn State), studied abroad in Australia, took photography classes, learned about web design, and emerged with a portfolio that I'm proud of.
The note went on to ask for my opinion of his work (which I'll spare my loyal readers - and Kevin).
I gave him 5 new pieces of advice, which might be worth sharing with anyone in pursuit of a career in art direction in 2010.
1. I've seen better books, but that's always going to be the case. You should have a billboard campaign. And you should think about a longer format idea: like TV. And you should weave together more integrated stuff. Look at this. Watch the video - it's pretty well done. Your peers are doing videos like these to sell their campaigns.
2. As you look for internships or a junior job, think about how much interactive work they are into. Consider a mobile-only campaign. Think about a Facebook app. Start with an idea; don't feel like it needs to be a print ad.
3. Don't neglect the basics: push for opportunities to hone traditional skills. An interactive art director who can run a photo shoot or a film shoot is a rare breed. And getting rarer. Take "Art Director" seriously. Always find out if there's a budget for photography/illustration/film/music. If not, ask why. If that answer isn't good enough, ask someone else.
4. As you start to work on real projects, understand that it's imperative your work is based on sound strategies. Question the ones you're given. Make them better, simpler, sharper. Find out what the true business problem is, and look for the solution (not necessarily the requested print ad, TV spot, etc).
5. Ask for the good stuff. Sitting around waiting to be fed a sweet project is futile. If you get into a great agency, you'll have to take opportunities away from other great teams. If you get into a good agency - or a bad one - you can make it better ONLY if you seize opportunities to take risks and try to get good work into the mix. Find a creative director who'll back you up and work your ass off for him/her.
Best of luck.